After looking at the global issue of immigration, it was definitely appropriate to turn towards the means of which we deal with global issues – foreign policy. Especially with the case of the US, I noticed from the beginning that a large portion of foreign policy orients around intervention in countries where something is happening – whether it is a conflict, revolution or something else. I also noticed that because of this there is a negative perception of the US being someone “who messes with others’ business and enforces their will upon them”. I was confronted with this view in the classroom here, in the US, but also during my time back in Slovakia, where some media and people have the same opinion.
Learning more about this, I found that interventionism in the case of the US can be divided into two parts – one driven by humanitarian/social issues, and the other driven by self-interests. To answer the question of whether US interventionism is rightfully viewed as bad, one should probably come up with a ratio of how many social and how many self-interested interventions were carried out and whether they were truly what authorities said they were.
If we look at the world wars, we could make a solid case for the US involvement as a humanitarian/social mission. What was essentially at stake in the conflict were democratic values and a concept of universal human rights – both things which the US stood for as an emerging democratic superpower. Many would because of that agree that both engagements shortened the conflicts. But then again, couldn’t the US have intervened in these conflicts just to establish itself as a democratic superpower? Wouldn’t this be beneficial to the US? Wouldn’t it show the rest of the world how a democracy (a revolutionary concept) can put up a fight? It definitely would, and some might say that it did. As a response to this though, I’d say that it would be more so with WW1, not WW2 where social issues were to some extent more significant.
The Cold War era interventionism leans more towards being guided by self-interest. In both major Cold War conflicts – Korea and Vietnam – the US wanted to deter Soviet expansion and the spreading of communism. Granted, communist regimes oppressed human rights quite often, but most statements from those times mostly mentioned getting rid of competitive influence, not about positive social change the US could have brought. The US also used its influence in international organisations like the UN to get its way, where once again, the question of whether it was legitimate has to be posed.
Because of the relative failures of US interventions in the Cold War conflicts the US had slightly halted its international commitments. Failing to complete a peace enforcement mission in Somalia in the first Battle of Mogadishu only strengthened this shift in policy making, consequently resulting in reluctance to act in conflicts where genuinely humanitarian/social issues were the basis for all atrocities that occurred. Why did the US not intervene sooner or not at all? Well, public support was an issue, but that wasn’t an issue with conflicts like Iraq. What made Iraq different from places like Rwanda or Bosnia? The latter conflicts had an absence of the possibility of gaining influence in an oil rich region.
It seems like the pattern with US interventions has quite the changing nature. But the deciding factor for whether an intervention will happen are possibilities of gaining some advantage that would benefit the US, not necessarily the international community. Is this why the US is viewed negatively domestically and in the world? And if it is so, should it change this approach by ignoring self-interest completely? Wouldn’t that make US voters even angrier? It might be very hard to answer these questions, especially now and that is a problem because how else should we know what foreign policy is good or bad?